‘Mummy,’ announces the 10-year-old, ‘is too tired to exclaim her consequences!’
As her ambition outstrips her vocabulary, her conversation becomes rivetingly surreal. She admonishes the Vicar for nitpicking: ‘Don’t be so nutritious [pedantic]!’ She sympathises with a friend who has been insulted. ‘I’d feel very bedraggled [dismayed] if someone said that to me!’ and exclaims in disgust when her brother exhibits a half-chewed Malteser: ‘That’s a bad privilege [habit]!’
I love this fearless manipulation of language. My children, armed with a handful of primary-school nouns, can make themselves understood more confidently in France than I can with my university degree, because they are oblivious to grammatical embarrassments and inventive of expressive alternatives.
Only children could converse with the profoundly deaf teenager in our first parish, because they were unfettered by self-consciousness. They talked and gestured normally, whilst we adults smiled uneasily and scarpered. Ignorance of official sign language prevented us, we assumed, from communicating.
In her struggle to articulate, my daughter invents words that don’t exist but ought to. She prefers the Vicar to take her to school because he drives the Skoda, while I march her a mile through mud. ‘What I like about you,’ she compliments him, ‘is that you’re not very walkative.’
Her good opinion is short-lived. The Vicar nags her about her slack tie and her bling school bag and he won’t let her substitute her school shoes for plimsolls. She eyes him severely, pondering the ultimate put-down. ‘You are,’ she decides triumphantly ‘getting to the drive with me, Dad!’
Are your children linguistic experimenters? Share your favourite malapropisms here: